Holy Viral Marketing Batman!

In January, I pondered the future of The Dark Knight’s viral marketing/PR campaign after the tragic loss of Heath Ledger. As you may recall, a Hollywood pal of mine confided that he hoped it would continue as planned since, as he said, it would knock my socks off.

At that point, all we’d seen were some teaser posters and texts from Ledger’s character, The Joker.

Well, the second phase of The Dark Knight’s campaign has rolled out and I have to hand it to the folks at 42 Entertainment (to whom Warners subcontracted the marketing), this is undeniably the most comprehensive viral marketing campaign I have ever seen. It was precisely crafted for the fanboy/comic book geek crowd and they are eating it up. The media coverage has been staggering and I imagine it will continue to the film’s release this summer.

Here’s a run-down the rabbit-hole that is The Dark Knight’s promotional strategy:

Faux Politics

The new issue of The Gotham Times has been posted and the Harvey Dent campaign website has announced that Harvey is running for DA. The campaign site lacks any references to Batman. In fact, as someone not familiar with the depths of Batman lore, when I first saw the graffiti-laden posters in a theater window display a few months ago, I thought Dent was a movie in its own right and went online seeking it out. The faux political site urges “concerned Gotham citizens” to “take back Gotham City” by backing Dent and organizing faux grass-roots rallies, filming videos and coming out to meet the Dentmobile touring target cities.

Rowdy Real-World Rallies

Further blending the lines between fact and fiction, on March 12, a rally for the fictional DA candidate was broken up by very real and very confused police. Fans had come out to meet the Dentmobile and when police arrived to remove the crowds, the cops seemed genuinely bewildered by volunteers handing out Harvey Dent bumper stickers, buttons and T-shirts.

Opponent Sites

Of course, what would a political campaign be without opponents? Roger Garcetti, acting DA of Gotham City, and Dana Worthington, founder of the Gotham Victims Advocate Foundation have joined in the fray. More info for her can be found at DanaWorthington.com.

Faux News Coverage

Other Gotham-related sites include a Drudge Report mimic called Maiden Avenue Report.

New sites for more Gotham City services including GothamCableNews.comSaintsWithunsChurch.org and GothamCab.com have also launched. And, of course, there is the CitizensForBatman.org site.

Texts and Voicemails

Harvey Dent and The Joker are using text messages and voicemails to communicate with their supporters.

ARGs

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) including scavenger-hunts and role-playing are also in the mix: a page appeared at whysoserious.com/steprightup with a hammer game and some teddy bear toys. Each toy had an address on it located in a number of cities around the US. The note on the game told people to go to that address and say their name was “Robin Banks” (robin’ banks, that’s pretty funny!) and to await further instructions. What they were given was a cake with a phone number written on it. Now here’s the best part: inside the cake was an evidence bag (complete with Gotham City Police printing) that contained a cell phone, a charger, a Joker playing card and a note with instructions.

Red Herrings

Various red herring sites have launched to throw people off the trail in the ARGs. I don’t know if these are created by the 42 Entertainment or by fans who are playing the game; it’s just part of the beauty of the whole thing!

Plot-Point Sites

Another website, www.ibelieveinharveydenttoo.com provides teasers about some connection between the Joker and Two Face that I assume will be explained in the film. (Maybe it’s already known. Again, I’m rusty on my comic book lore.)

ComicCon Tie-Ins

Well aware of their core audience, the marketers put it all out there at San Diego’s Comicon with specially defaced dollar bills with yet another web site’s url. On the site The Joker offered fans the chance to become his henchmen with special prizes for those willing to carry out his demands. These players gathered at a set location (offline) to obtain a phone number that was written in the sky by a plane! From there, they embarked on an elaborate scavenger hunt around the city.

Faux Kidnappings

The Comicon promo ended with a fan being abducted by “thugs” in a Cadillac Escalade and getting symbolically “murdered” by armed men who mistook the player for the Joker.

Whew! So, fellow PR pro/marketer — what did YOU do today?

Some colleagues have said this is overkill and that by the time the movie hits this summer, people will be sick of it after all this hype. (The campaign began nearly a year ago.) But, the power here is that you have to seek these sites out. You have to be the kind of person who wants to run around town in a text-based scavenger hunt and look up in the sky for clues. For the comic book audience, I cannot imagine a better fantasy come true than to play with the superheroes and villains they love so much. Well done 42 Entertainment! You’ve set the bar into the stratosphere and made The Blair Witch campaign look like a pageboy hollering, “extra! extra!” on the street corner.

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